Extranet collaboration platforms - coming soon, but many-to-many problem remains

Extranet collaboration platforms - coming soon, but many-to-many problem remains

Summary: In our conversations with many information and knowledge management professionals, it's clear that their distributed and multicompany teams need better extranet collaboration tools.And they feel the problem is only getting worse as companies go virtual, global, distributed, outsourced, green, travel-less, and partnered, thus driving the need for ever-better collaboration tools that work outside the firewall.

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In our conversations with many information and knowledge management professionals, it's clear that their distributed and multicompany teams need better extranet collaboration tools.

And they feel the problem is only getting worse as companies go virtual, global, distributed, outsourced, green, travel-less, and partnered, thus driving the need for ever-better collaboration tools that work outside the firewall.

Trouble is, the messaging and collaboration services that  companies have implemented are designed primarily for internal teams.

For example, it's bloody difficult to set up a secure instant messaging connection with every partner you might want to work with. Such interoperability between IM platforms is technically possible, but operationally nightmarish.

So clever employees do what they must: Use public IM and calendaring services, cobble together conferences from piece parts, and fall back on endless scheduling and sharing emails and voice conferencing. Ugh. Ugly. And scary.

Well, the solution's just around the corner say vendors new and old. After all, many are on the cusp of major product releases that promise much better extranet connections and capabilities:

  • IBM Bluehouse promises a new extranet collaboration platform.
  • Google already offers an extranet collaboration toolkit in its Google Apps Premier Edition.
  • Cisco is adding extranet collaboration capabilities to WebEx.
  • Microsoft is moving its services into the cloud for easier extranet access.
  • PBwiki is already cloud-based and ready for extranet collaboration.
  • The extranet collaboration toolkit list goes on: Veodia, Forterra, Dimdim, Qwaq.

That may be true. I surely hope so. But I fear that we have a few more hurdles to clear before extranet collaboration becomes as straightforward as internal collaboration. The basic problem is the many-to-many combinatorial problem. (The mathematicians I know call this a combinatorial problem, and its solution scales exponentially with the number of companies, nee people, involved.)

In addition to all the important stuff to support multicompany teams -- conferencing, video, shared calendars, team sites, persistent chat, search, shared documents, unified communications, structured processes, etc. -- these structural problems must be solved:

  1. An extranet collaboration platform will have to be set up in the cloud. Using a cloud-based provider turns a many-to-many exponential problem into a many-to-one linear problem. But one of the partnering company must still own and control the platform services.
  2. The many-to-many permission problem must be solved. How do to manage access control when teams form and disband and companies sometimes partner and sometimes compete? The access control tools need to get easy to use and integrate well with existing corporate directories.
  3. IT will have to grow comfortable with new access control dashboards. Thomson Reuters Messaging has solved this problem for some industries, giving individual companies control over what their employees can do on the extranet collaboration platform that it hosts.

Topics: Networking, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Software

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4 comments
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  • Odd

    odd
    GuidingLight
  • RE: Extranet collaboration platforms - coming soon, but many-to-many proble

    We think VeoProject (www.veoproject.com) has a great web-based solution for managing tasks and project information. It's a really powerful tool to share documents, build sophisticated project plans, and track everything with reports. We have dev teams and customers in about 8 timezones and would die without a tool to pull it all together.
    bethredfern
  • RE: Extranet collaboration platforms - coming soon, but many-to-many problem remains

    Ken Thompson of Swarmteams has done considerable work in the area of many to many collaboration. He built Swarmtribes.com which builds fan bases for about 80 British bands. Once a band creates a swarm (community), fans can build their own sub communities and cross pollinate outside those communities. It uses a variety of media - texting, email, IM to message and the web to act as the file and message repository. It is a platform designed for external as well as internal use.

    This has applicability in business e.g. in crisis management when rapid responses from people are required from any source available, as well as in supporting brainstorming.
    jmoffat
  • Simplifying The Many to Many Problem

    Very interesting article. You are right, as
    soon as the platform resides on the cloud, the
    complexity of the problem will be reduced. But
    the issue will still be - who will control the
    system?

    A great extranet tool you missed is <a
    href="http://www.hyperoffice.com"> HyperOffice
    </a>, which lets small businesses very quickly
    set up password protected, permission managed,
    tool rich extranet environments. One can safely
    say one thing for now, any company which takes
    an initiative to set up an extranet for its
    clients or partners at this stage, will
    definitely be appreciated, but it is a mega-
    improvement from the email centric
    collaboration that happens.
    pankajunk